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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

We are all figuring out ways to come together while apart.

Bob and I shared cocktail hour one night in a parking lot with neighbors. Some of us sat on tailgates and some got comfy on camp chairs. While keeping the appropriate distance, we got caught up on local gossip – the last time we’d seen each other we were cleaning up the streets after our Tornado.

I like to capitalize Tornado because it seems weighty, and it was my first time cheating death by Mother Nature. And we cannot forget Nashville was already reeling, before our “Stay at Home” order; some of us had no roof, or a home for shelter.

Yesterday we ordered cupcakes from our local bakery, The Cupcake Collection. Mignon is offering curbside delivery! https://www.thecupcakecollection.com/  They had just started up their business again, after losing a good portion of their historic house to record-setting winds last month. I remember the Bride’s Italian Nanny, Giovanna, loved red velvet cupcakes. But we were hoping to celebrate Great Grandpa Hudson’s 94th birthday with some sweet potato cupcakes.

Hudson was a redhead when he was young. He lied about his age to enlist in WWII and served on a ship in the Pacific Theatre. He is the only grandfather my children have ever known since my father died when I was a baby, and Bob’s father, well, he was of no use. My children never met him.

Hudson still serves as Ada’s co-star in Nashville. But when we would visit them in NJ, he was always the fix-it guy, having actually built a hospital in Ghana once upon a time when he was a missionary. He carved gigantic totem poles, fixed furniture, the pool every spring, and any plumbing or roofing problems that might pop up. He was the husband/handyman every woman ever wanted. Over the years, he’d officiate at more weddings than I can count, including the Bride and Groom’s.

We sang the Happy Birthday song to Hudson through a glass window in the vestibule of their assisted living facility. I’m not really sure if he could hear us. Only aides are allowed in and out, but we could talk with Ada through our cell phones. Her spirit is incredible, this virus cannot diminish that resilient light. “How are my babies?” she asked me. So I told her how the Bride is home-schooling, that she has enough PPE for now, and about Dolly Parton’s gift to Vanderbilt. Dolly for President!

She said she likes my red hair, and I told her it was pink leaning toward fuchsia. Leave it to me to decide to color my hair when I won’t be able to see my stylist for awhile.

Bob and I have figured out how to use Zoom, it’s actually pretty easy. I can still take a group Pilates class once a week through my iPad. I only need a yoga mat and a foam roller. I almost don’t recognize myself in that gallery window box – who is that purple headed lady?

Some of you know that I’ve often felt like a character in an Anne Tyler novel, going about her day to day existence, seemingly normal, while balancing an out-of-control inner life. Maybe most writers live in the subtext? It’s certainly helpful right now – in this out-of-control outer life – to stay in the moment, so I thought I’d recommend Tyler’s newest book to you, since we all have a lot of time on our hands. Why not call up your local bookstore?

Her new novel is “Redhead by the Side of the Road.” It’s about second chances, it’s funny and compassionate at the same time. You might want to eat a cupcake while you read it! https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-520904645953AE18-6DD5-4CA6-93ED-99E3EFF69A4C

 

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A disaster happened when Bob and I first went to Vegas. It was December 10, 1992. I remember thinking I wanted to see the big rodeo that was happening right outside of town. I loved riding horses in summer camp and didn’t really gamble, and Bob doesn’t drink, so what’s to do? Plus, the big shows were mostly still in development. I had tagged along last minute for a 4 day medical conference and we had arranged for Bob’s secretary to mind the kids back home on the Jersey Shore.

When we woke up the next morning to a reporter on TV standing in floodwaters above his knees in Sea Bright, NJ, I started to panic. Our home was in Rumson, right across the drawbridge from that sand spit scattered with beach clubs and bars. The Shore was being pounded by a so-called “No Name Storm” because nobody saw it coming. We got through to the babysitter. She told us the painters had left? We had a group of Irish guys still painting the finished kitchen renovation and family room… we had just moved into the MidCentury Modern house in September.

“…the strong northeast portion of the nor’easter affected New Jersey for several days,[5] producing strong winds and record high tides.[14] Wind gusts reached 80 mph (130 km/h) in Cape May, which were the strongest winds in association with the storm. Sustained winds were around 30 mph (48 km/h) in the region.[2] High winds in Atlantic City destroyed the windows of storefronts.[15] Along the Jersey coast, the nor’easter produced waves of up to 25 ft (7.6 m) in height.[2] About 25 mi (40 km) offshore Long Branch, waves reached heights of 44 ft (13 m).[“

But it wasn’t the waves that worried us, it was the high tide that came right into our house from the Shrewsbury River. This was the 100 year flood our realtor had told us about and luckily we had flood insurance. But I wasn’t worrying about the house, I wanted to get back to my children, the Bride was 13 and the Rocker was 8. All of the NY Metro area airports were closed.

You can see why I have mixed feelings about Vegas. Most of you know the rest of this story – the fireman friend who rescued the kids, the reunion a few days later when flights started up again. We returned to Vegas once, after the kids were grown, and I still felt slightly disoriented. The fake Eiffel Tower. The huge Cirque du Soleil shows. We managed to stay at Mandalay Bay where you could sit on a fake beach. My only respite was booking a Canyon Ranch spa day.

I was thinking about the Mandalay Bay during the disastrous Democratic debate this week in Vegas. It sits at the far end of the Strip, and was the epicenter of one of the worst mass shootings in our country’s history; 58 people killed and 850 injured at a country music festival. In September of 2017, JUST 3 YEARS AGO, a 64 year old maniac checked into that hotel with a garrison of weapons (23 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition) and because he was such a good customer, the hotel gave him his room for free. https://www.businessinsider.com/timeline-shows-exactly-how-the-las-vegas-massacre-unfolded-2018-9

One of the candidates mentioned, in an aside, that Bernie had been protecting gun manufacturers, but it was immediately glossed over. Was it Biden? Why didn’t the moderators manage to bring up this public health epidemic that kills 100 people a day in this country…how can you talk about healthcare and NOT go there?

Soon we will know what Nevada thinks about the front-runners. Did Elizabeth resurrect her campaign by going after the Trump stand-in (Bloomberg)? Is Mayor Pete actually relatable and not an automaton? Do you think Bernie, an angry, old man, can beat Trump? And did Amy seal her fate by trying to speak in Spanish? I don’t have to have a beer with somebody to know if they’re authentic, smart and competent.

When flood waters rush in, I only have to know if you’ll be there with sand bags, and hot chocolate.  IMG_7182

 

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When I first met Wendi, she was holding her baby boy. Her smile was like sunshine as she showed me around the property. We had finally moved to Virginia, and when the Bride and I first saw the house, she had been away on a business trip. My soon-to-be landlord was a fabulous designer, she flew all over the country installing the dreams of her famous clients.

Strangely enough on that crystal clear day in Charlottesville, Wendi was in New Jersey.

But at our first look, her husband, wanted us to rent their guest cottage. He knew the Bride was starting at UVA Medical School, and he was psyched about our Duke connection. As he led us through the main house and into the dining room, where an old Dutch master-like portrait of a man with a beard hung over a sideboard, I wasn’t prepared for this revelation.

“There’s a building at Duke University named after my ancestor,” he said pointing up to the painting, “It’s the Allen Building.”

In fact, Bob and the Bride were well acquainted with the Allen Building. Turns out it was named after a good friend of JB Duke in the early 1920s, a man from Warrenton, NC – George Garland Allen. Allen had started out as a bookkeeper for the American Tobacco Company in 1895, working his way up in the Duke organization.

My new landlord’s Great Grandfather, on his Mother’s side, had been known to say it was easier to accumulate his wealth than it was to give it away.

This didn’t stop us from moving our Welsh Corgi along with big Buddha Bear and Bailey Dawg (the Bride’s Lab) into the smaller “cottage” on their property. Wendi welcomed us with open arms, in fact she collected a menagerie of dogs too – from a sublime Great Dane to another ridiculous Corgi! When we finally built our house overlooking the Blue Ridge, Wendi had 2 small boys, and 2 matching Labs.

In contrast to her husband’s Southern lineage, Wendi was a California girl. She didn’t come from money; she had been a nanny in NY and then went to school for design. She built her own business from the ground up, and juggled 2 children with the demands of her world-wide clientele. I remember distinctly when she told me about this woman who would come in and cook you a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday and put them in the freezer.

Aha, so this was how working women who might jet off at a moment’s notice took care of their family. This was before GrubHub.

Wendi would throw great Gatsbyesque parties around their pond behind their home. She sent her boys to the public school and became one of the fiercest football moms around. She loved keeping tabs on the Rocker, and made sure her boys knew all about his band. When the Parlor Mob stopped by on a swing through Virginia, she treated them like royalty. When I became secretary of the local book club, she’d make a point of attending if she was in town.

She was one or two decades younger than most of us; a doctor, a few lawyers, a few teachers, and me, the one who could make an email list-serve. Wendi’s California blonde exuberance would always add the fun component to our gatherings. After her divorce, she started a new business of high-end consignment pop-ups that housed many of the pieces Bob and I couldn’t carry with us to Nashville.

Last month, after saying goodbye to her oldest son, who was heading to Australia for his college semester abroad, Wendi died tragically, she was only 53 years old. That baby, that I first met on her hip, is now in high school. When my old friend and neighbor called to tell me the news, I was shaking. How can this be? Didn’t I just talk with her about our trip to Tulum? Didn’t I just see beautiful pictures on Instagram of her December holiday in Puerto Rico? She’d found a new love, and life was looking good for my friend.

How can a light like that be extinguished? My lovely, vibrant Wendi, how can this happen? I hope you knew how many people loved you. Your outstanding sons are your legacy, your Valentines in football jerseys. Sleep peacefully dear heart.

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Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt, will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

What was it about the Nashville Symphony on Sunday night? Steve Hackman, a young conductor from LA, walked out to the podium with his long arms and long curly hair and faced the audience, telling us how he came to compose “The Times They Are A-Changin: The Words and Music of Bob Dylan.” He introduced the first violin; behind the orchestra sat row upon row of the Nashville Symphony Chorus, over a hundred voices strong.

As Hackman raised his baton to conduct one of the first pieces, “Tangled Up in Blue,” I could feel the knot in my throat constricting. Admittedly, I was already feeling blue – from the never-ending rain and the political parody of the last few years – from a week-long insult to our collective intelligence that was playing itself out on the Hill. I was feeling discouraged, resigned to a president who was like a demagogue, with an attorney general guarding his flank, and a lapdog/senator, who did his bidding.

Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wondering if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red

As the music swelled and the chorus of voices swept through the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall, Bob and I looked at each other. This evening would turn out to be a metaphor for our lives together, for the 60s and the 70s; tender yet explosive at times. We somehow knew, through war and divorce, we would find our way back to each other. We would meet again “…someday on the avenue.” Next came “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road

I forgot what it was like to be immersed in a musical experience, to close my eyes and allow the strings and chords to penetrate my soul. This wasn’t an Italian opera, the words were in English and they defined my generation. Tears were slowly rolling down my cheeks by the time the chorus began “I Shall Be Released.” Is this a plea for death to come, to cover us like a well-worn blanket? The last phrase is about standing in a lonely crowd, next to a man who swears he’s not to blame…”Crying out that he was framed.”

Any. Day. Now. Any day now, we shall hear what our senators are willing to do to keep their seats, to retain their power. Will they continue to cover-up his perfect phone call? To pretend our president wasn’t granting favors to other authoritarian leaders around the world?

In 2016 Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, for having created “New poetic expressions within the great American Song tradition.” He put off traveling to Stockholm to receive his medal, finally giving a reluctant speech about his influences in literature from grade school:  “Moby DickAll Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.”  Songs, he tells us, are unlike literature, they’re meant to be sung, not read.”

Finally, Dylan quoted The Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.”

In this New Chinese New Year, have I become just another Cassandra, writing prophesy that no one will believe, warning my readers that our democracy is at a tipping point. That we are doomed to repeat the past if we simply stand by and do nothing. Nixon knew enough to leave, and Clinton knew enough to apologize for lying. This lying, malicious president knows nothing, which is far worse.

Today is T’ai Chi Tuesday, a form of mindful meditation. I will find my center, and try to balance the dark with the light. I will keep calling my senators, will you?

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Yesterday, a crocus pushed its shiny, new green leaves up in our garden. I remember always being surprised to see the little flower in the midst of snow and ice in the Berkshire Mountains. It is the harbinger of spring, just as sure as a robin jumping around in the grass. But this time, it’s too early; the first week of a new year should find us deep into winter with hats and scarves and gloves. Instead, today it will be 60 degrees.

“In addition to Crocus’ merit as a beautiful and cheerful winter bloomer, one species, C. sativus, is the source of the spice saffron. Henry Beston describes C. sativus in Herbs and the Earth (1935, D.R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.): “An autumn Crocus with a long history as a drug, a flavoring powder, and a pigment, only the golden stigma of the flower being used… May not overwinter.”  True enough, although many Crocus are perennial in Tennessee, as a USDA Hardiness Zone 8 plant C. sativus may not overwinter for many Tennesseans. If that doesn’t deter you from growing your own saffron, Steven Still writes that “about 7000 flowers are required to produce 3 ounces of saffron.”  https://ag.tennessee.edu/news/Pages/POM-2016-02.aspx

I had no idea the costliest spice in the world comes from a crocus!

Makes me want to dig up my old, Julia Child paella recipe. I was thinking about my younger, newly married self in the car the other day; living in Cambridge, MA and spotting Julia herself at the small green grocers’.  NPR was interviewing a chef about his “…worst kitchen disasters.” Of course, it was slicing off the tip of a finger with a mandolin his first time on live TV!

I’ve managed to avoid the dreaded mandolin injury – I use mine to slice whisper thin vegetables into my veggie lasagna. But one of my very first attempts at the fine art of cuisine in Cambridge does come to mind. I almost torched my kitchen when I tried making Julia’s recipe for Coq au Vin! Since then, I’ve left anything flambeed to the experts. Even resisting the urge to buy a tiny blowtorch to crinkle-brown creme brulee – my favorite dessert!

I wish my keyboard did l’accent aigu“Getting your (French) accents right is the difference between being a pêcheur (fisherman) and a pécheur (sinner). Which one would you rather have on your résumé?”

Parsley and rosemary are still growing in the garden, even some of Bob’s winter kale seems hardy and ready to be harvested. The Bride and her family are returning soon from Hawaii and I’d like to cook them something for their first night back. Maybe I’ll buy some red wine and make a big pot of Boeuf Bourguignon! Like every good semi-Southern cook I’ve got some bacon in the fridge and I know the L’il Pumpkin loves this dish.

Although, after hearing about their first Kalua Pig in a Pit, where the Love Bug definitely did not like the idea of unearthing the body of a full-on, dead, roasted pig, I may have to get creative with vegetables and her old stand-by, pasta. Maybe we’ll roast some marshmallows on the fire pit, and pretend it’s still winter! Here they are on a lava rock.

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Sure, I was bullied as a kid. But that one boy who tripped me up on my bike, when I fell and broke my arm, I got back at him. I pushed an ice cream cone right in his face, and I don’t remember being bullied ever again. Well, except by a teacher.

Over sushi I was telling the Grands about Catholic school. How we had to sit still with our hands folded in front of us all the time. One teacher made me stand in the corner for half a day, luckily she didn’t have a dunce hat. “Why,” they wanted to know.

“Because I was talking to a boy!”

And I swear, we all broke out in belly laughs. One of the worst moments in my young life seemed pretty comical now. I mean shaming a child, it just doesn’t compute or translate well in today’s world, or maybe it does?

I’ve been having an ‘on and off’ conversation with the Love Bug and the L’il Pumpkin about “bad people” ever since someone stole my wallet while we were having lunch at Panera. What should we do if we have to confront a bad person. Their parents have been telling them that everybody is good, that you turn and walk away from a confrontation, and I get that. You don’t want to color their young minds with horror stories – and yet, they already hate Mr T cause, well, we ALL do.

I was thinking about this after the Democratic debates in Atlanta. I was surprised at how much I like Andrew Yang. He seemed to be the only authentic person up on that stage, like he was talking to me. When he spoke about looking our kids and Grands in the eye, and leaving them a better future, when he shared that he had an autistic child, when he talked about keeping America safe:

While it was well into the debate before Yang spoke, his answers about some of the threats to American society once again, brought new ideas to the debate stage. Artificial intelligence, which he’s mentioned in previous debates, is a future threat that must be taken seriously. And setting up something like a WTO (World Trade Organization) for data? His ingenuity was astounding. Bold ideas suit Yang well — and, when well thought out and pragmatic, they get high points in a debate.  https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/21/opinions/buttigieg-yang-stole-the-show-debate-opinion-graham/index.html

A WTO for Data?!?! I mean, AI is coming, along with the Russians and China, and will we be ready for it? Then the Rocker sent me an article about Yang;  “As President, I will establish a Department of the ATTENTION Economy,” https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/18/perspectives/andrew-yang-technology/index.html

He wants to study what social media is doing to our kids. It’s like “Back to the Future,” will they become (expletive) or something? My kids didn’t have smart phones growing up, tech was in its infancy, email was a new thing. And the Grands don’t have a tablet or phone or anything YET; but they DO use tablets in school and see everyone else around them staring down into their hands. The Love Bug recently asked her Dad if they could have a “Device-Free” day because she’d heard about this from her teachers.

A young mind can become addicted faster than our old brains want to believe. And social media is simply another method for bullies to do what they do best – shame and humiliate. A 12 year old girl in Nashville just committed suicide after being bullied mercilessly. How many “followers” do you have? Did you see that picture of so-and-so on Insta?

Remember how inadequate you felt your Freshman year in high school?  Well, add a few years of comparing yourself to others on top of that. I walked straight outta Catholic school into a public high school, and was lucky to find a bunch of nerdy, pre-college kids to welcome me.

Running around the neighborhood on my bike was pretty care-free in comparison to today, even if a bully thought he could hurt me, I didn’t let him define me. I got even. My not-so-polite message is not to run away from a fight, not to make excuses for someone’s bad behavior. My Grands will eventually meet up with a real “bad person,” they will eventually have a smart phone in their hands or maybe a piece of Borg machinery hard-wired directly into their skulls.

Should we employ algorithms to cap a child’s screen time per day, or just boot them out the door to play? We are experiencing a “GLOBAL epidemic” of childhood inactivity, what do you think? https://www.bbc.com/news/health-50466061

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In the depths of a crisis, have you ever looked around and asked yourself how in the world you got there? How did Great Grandma Ada, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, end up in Nashville for instance. I am less likely to examine the minutiae of my circumstances, maybe because I was tossed about from one home to another as a child. I had to learn to ride the waves of two families. Plus, I’m not one to live in the past; but I do love to see Shakespeare performed outside, amidst the sounds of birds and trains.

This past weekend our whole family bumped into “The Tempest” outside our restaurant window! We loved it so much, we came back the next day with lawn chairs. A deposed Duke Prospero, has been tossed onto an island in a storm with only his young daughter, Miranda, some sprites of course, and a strange, savage man named Caliban. So what does he do? He whips up an even bigger storm with his magic to payback his conniving brother and his court who are now shipwrecked alongside him.

Shenanigans begin!

When Bob and I first married and moved to the Berkshires, we would regularly attend Shakespeare at the Mount in Lenox. Edith Wharton’s “cottage” garden was the setting for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” our introduction to the Bard en plein air. Of course we became enamored of this comedy of errors, where sprites and fairies rule the roost and make mockery of love and lust. Puck is a most mischievous servant and of course magic plays a central role in this play as well.

Leaping ahead from the 17th Century to today, I wonder who will be the ultimate playwright of our turbulent times? We may not have dukes and kings and queens but we do have a president who would be king. He loves opulence and the fame reality TV brings, he yearns for power and adoring crowds of red-hatted people. Kim Kardashian-West seems to be the only person who has played him recently, successfully lobbying Mr T to enact the first criminal justice reform bill in recent history.

Now Kim, a perfect medieval sprite, is studying Law – and what does Shakespeare say about lawyers? And not the one about killing all of them:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; not the soldier’s which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

Yes, lawyers can be political. Think about Gloria Allred’s daughter, the feminist lawyer, Lisa Bloom. She’s found herself in a bit of a Tempest while arguing FOR Harvey Weinstein in a memo she suggested they sully an actress’ reputation. Paint Rose McGowan to be unhinged, a “harpy” in Shakespearian terms. I’m heading over to Parnassus soon to get the new book, “She Said” by Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/08/books/review/she-said-jodi-kantor-megan-twohey.html

Maybe this is how we can frame our troubled times. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists piece together the culture of abuse and obfuscation that dominates some of our most cherished institutions. And instead of a play, we will make a film. How did we end up caging children, separating families, and drawing Alabama into Hurricane Dorian with a Sharpie? How have we managed to separate ourselves from the natural world and our allies on this forlorn island?

Magically, we landed on a lawn in a park in the city to help ease our “humorous sadness.”

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